Sat Essay Scoring System

Wondering about the new SAT essay scoring rubric? We’ve got that, and more!

It’s a fact of academic life that you need to write essays. You’ve done it in high school and you’ll write even more in college. Unless you’re in a creative writing class – and sometimes even then – you’ll be given directions about the format and general topic of the essay, and how well you follow those directions counts in your grade. The same thing applies to the SAT essay. It’s optional, as you know, but we encourage you to write it for some really good reasons; see Should I take the New SAT Essay for more about those reasons.

While your high school and college essays are probably read and graded by the teacher or teaching assistant, your SAT essays are read and scored by professionals who are trained to assess the essay in terms of exactly what the SAT is looking for in a good essay. There’s nothing ambiguous about the scoring criteria; the SAT has it down to a science.

SAT readers/scorers are generally high school or college teachers with experience in reading and grading essays. They’re thoroughly trained, have to pass tests to qualify as SAT readers, and once certified, are expected to absolutely conform to the scoring rubric—no personal opinions, no comments—just a number score from the rubric. Two scorers read each essay and if their scores diverge too much, a third reader scores it as well. Each reader gives a score of 1-4 for each of three criteria, the two scores are added, and the student gets three essay scores ranging from 2-8, one for each criterion.

So what are the criteria that readers so rigidly follow?

 

New SAT Essay Scoring Criteria

Reading

One Point

  • Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text
  • Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s)
  • May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
  • Makes little or no use of textual evidence

Two Points

  • Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details
  • May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
  • Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence

Three Points

  • Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details
  • Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text
  • Makes appropriate use of textual evidence

Four Points

  • Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and most important details and how they interrelate
  • Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text
  • Makes skillful use of textual evidence

Writing

One Point

  • Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language
  • May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea
  • Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion; does not have a discernible progression of ideas
  • Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate; may lack a formal style and objective tone
  • Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing

Two Points

  • Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language
  • May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea
  • May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion; may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout
  • Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive; may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone
  • Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding

Three Points

  • Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language
  • Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea
  • Includes an effective introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
  • Has variety in sentence structures; demonstrates some precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
  • Shows a good control of the conventions of standards written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing

Four Points

  • Is cohesive and demonstrates highly effective use and command of language
  • Includes a precise central claim
  • Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
  • Has a wide variety in sentence structures; demonstrates consistent use of precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
  • Shows a strong command of the conventions of standards written English and is free or virtually free of errors

Analysis

One Point

  • Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little to no understanding of the analytical task
  • Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing
  • Numerous aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
  • Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant
  • May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task
  • Offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary)

Two Points

  • Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task
  • Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance
  • One or more aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
  • Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made
  • May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task

Three Points

  • Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task
  • Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
  • Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made
  • Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task

Four Points

  • Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task
  • Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
  • Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made
  • Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task

The essay components are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Reading refers to how well you demonstrate understanding of the text; analysis covers how well you examine the structure and components of it, and writing, as you might expect, assesses your ability to write clear, correct, and cohesive prose.

There’s a lot of detail under each score, but note that for reading, the scores go from the highest, “thorough,” (4) to the lowest, “little or no comprehension” (1). In the middle are “some” and “effective,” scores of 3 and 4 respectively, and probably where most students score. More or less the same scale, with different words, also applies to analysis and writing. It’s worth reiterating that SAT readers are held exactly to this scale and the specific breakdown under each score.

Now here’s a question for you. How long do you think each reader is expected to spend on reading, assessing, and scoring the essay? The answer is a minute or two. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to know and follow directions, read the text with structure and the writer’s elements in mind, think clearly, and write strongly from the very beginning. That’s quite a challenge, but keep checking in this blog site and we’ll give you some really good tips about meeting the challenge and writing a essay with the winning score of 8-8-8.

< Previous: What’s tested on the SAT: the New SAT Essay

Next: 5 Must-Know SAT Writing Tips >

 

What’s a good SAT score? If you’re trying to figure out your SAT score goal for 2018 admissions, you’ll want to look at the SAT averages for the schools to which you’re applying. There are great resources like the College Board where you can search for averages at a wide variety of colleges.

The new SAT is based on a 1600-point scale, with two sections—Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing—scored between 200 and 800, and the optional essay evaluated separately. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so your raw score is the sum of the number of questions you answer correctly. Raw scores are converted to scaled scores, which are used to determine percentile ranks. The percentile indicates how well you did compared to other test takers. For example, if you score in the 72nd percentile, you did better than 72% of test takers.

What does this mean for you? Here’s what you need to know about your SAT score:

 

Best Scores

These scores will put you in the top 10% of all test takers

EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING:  660 – 800

MATH: 680 – 800

Competitive Scores

These scores will put you in a highly competitive place in admissions (top 25% of all test takers)

EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING:  590 – 650

MATH: 610 – 670

Above Average Scores

These scores put you ahead of the pack (50%+), but won’t be as advantageous when applying to highly competitive programs

EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING:  510 – 580

MATH: 520 – 600

Below Average Scores

These scores may be enough to get into a wide variety of college programs, but will be below average compared to the testing population

EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING:  500 or lower

MATH: 510 or lower

Your answer sheet is scanned, and your raw score is calculated by the College Board system. Because there’s no penalty for guessing for the New SAT test, your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly. Raw scores are converted to scores on a scale of 200 to 800 using a process called equating. This process ensures that your score is not affected by different forms of the test or other test-takers’ ability levels. This scaled score is what you see when you get your scores.

The SAT is scored on a 200-800 scale in each section in 10 point increments. The two sections (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math) will have scores provided separately. This relatively small scale means that small improvements in your score can make a big difference in your percentile ranking (sometimes, a ten point increase in your score can boost your percentile ranking by 5 points).

Remember that on the new SAT, you are NOT penalized for wrong answers. Understanding the scoring and knowing how to approach each section is important part of doing your best on test day.

SAT Essay responses are scored using a carefully designed process:

  • Two different people will read and score your essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing. 4 will be Advanced, 3 Proficient, 2 Partial and 1 Inadequate.
  • The two scores for each dimension are added.
  • You’ll receive three scores for the SAT Essay — one for each dimension — ranging from 2–8 points.

Remember that your SAT score is not the only factor that will be considered. Whether or not you are admitted to a college program (and whether or not you receive scholarship money) can depend on several factors. In addition to focusing on achieving the best SAT score possible for you, you should also work on obtaining the best GPA possible, writing a spectacular personal statement, taking a challenging course load and, and rounding out your application with extra-curriculars.

 

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